Times Staff Writer

Like Dracula, Freddy Krueger just can’t be kept down.

He’s back again in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” (citywide). Hideously burned but possessing supernatural powers--and a clawlike razor-tipped right hand, the erstwhile child murderer is still running amok.

The big difference is that his films are becoming burlesques of the original, and that’s frankly all to the good. It would seem that his creator, Wes Craven--who this time has left the directing to the capable Chuck Russell--figured that to raise Freddy (Robert Englund) from the dead would take so much contrivance that the whole procedure should be treated as a joke. Consequently, the morbid tone of the original has given way to horror comedy set off by quite spectacular and imaginative fantasy sequences. “Dream Warriors” is no less grisly, but at least you can laugh at it.

Nancy Thompson (again Heather Langenkamp), who as a child gathered the courage to defy Freddy and thereby survive him, has grown up to become a psychiatrist specializing in dream disorders. She’s just joined the staff of a psychiatric hospital where seven suicidal teen-agers are confounding the best efforts of a young doctor (Craig Wasson) to help them. Nancy quickly understands what’s up: They’re all terrified of going to sleep because Freddy intends to murder them (in a variety of gruesome methods, to be sure) in their dreams. They’re the last of the Elm Street kids, it seems, and Freddy is seeking revenge against their parents for burning him to death. (Shucks, they failed to bury him in consecrated ground.)


Never mind that none of this--and more--adds up very well, for the film itself proceeds with a kind of nightmare logic while suggesting almost subliminally that youngsters must learn to stand up for themselves, even in their dreams. Art directors Mick Strawn (“Sid & Nancy,” “Runaway Train”) and his sister C. J. Strawn (who has designed Wild West shows and circuses) and their associates have come up with terrific special effects and chilling nightmare worlds, even turning the boiler room where Freddy was supposed to have been done in for good into a fiery inferno worthy of Dante.

But what makes “Dream Warriors” really work is its throwaway humor, credited to Bruce Wagner and Frank Derabont as well as Craven and Russell. There’s a funny bit when one of Nancy’s patients watches Dick Cavett interviewing Zsa Zsa Gabor on TV--only to see Cavett turn into Freddy and lunge at Zsa Zsa.

Wasson’s usual earnestness serves him well here, and Langenkamp is very pretty but awfully callow, having to play a character a good five years older than she actually is. Most prominent of the tormented teens, all of whom are believable, is Patricia Arquette. John Saxon is back as Thompson’s now-dissolute father. Not surprisingly, when “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” (rated a most appropriate R) signs off, it makes it clear that we probably haven’t seen the last of Freddy.